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Andrzej Krzysztof Kunert, Adam Siwek, Zygmunt Walkowski

Polish War Cemetery in Kyiv-Bykivnia (Fourth Katyn Cemetery), the Council for the Protection of Memory of Strugle and Martyrdom, Warsaw 2012 (a fragment of the publication)

The forest complex near the village of Bykivnia near Kyiv (now within the administrative boundaries of Kyiv) became a place of secret mass burials of the victims of Stalin's Great Terror in the late 1930s.

These took place in the 19th and 20th quarter of the Dnieper Forestry in Darnica Forest-Park Farm, on a plot of land of 4-5 hectares, allocated for the special needs of the NKVD by the resolution of the Kyiv City Council of 20 March 1937. Preparatory works in this area - building the road, erecting an official building (a guardhouse), setting up a green fence - had already begun earlier, in summer 1936.

Stalin's Great Terror collected a bloody harvest from June 1937 also in Kyiv. Ukrainian historians calculate the number of NKVD victims in the Kyiv Region over the next four years until 18 September 1941 (on the next day Kyiv was occupied by the Germans) as more than 9,000 people1.

The German journalist Piotr Kolmus was the first person to write about the graves in the forest in Bykivnia, but his article, published in the newspaper “Berliner Borsen Zeitung” on 29 September 1941, did not receive much publicity.

In the autumn of 1941 and spring of 1942, earthworks in the Bykivnia Forest were being carried out by order of the German administration and in the presence of the press. Then in the newspaper “Ukrainskie Slowo” of 8 October 1941, which was published during the occupation of Kyiv, the article “Droga mordów Również w Kijowie przelewano niewinną krew [The Road of Murder. Also in Kyiv, Innocent Blood Was Shed]” appeared, which stated that “victims of Bolshevik terror” were buried near the village of Bykivnia. Later, at the burial site, by order of the occupying authorities, works to build a memorial began, which were not completed.
Time passed and the area, forgotten by the new owners, began to lose its original appearance. Immediately after Kyiv's liberation in 1943, the green fence and the building were demolished by the inhabitants of Bykivnia for the construction and renovation of their own houses destroyed by the retreating Germans. Later, on the site of the mysterious cemetery young trees began to grow. One could get an impression that nature tried to forget everything that brought to mind Bykivnia’s Tragedy, but human memory could never forget2.

The Soviet authorities did everything to convince the inhabitants of Kyiv that victims of the “fascist regime” were buried in Bykivnia. The first step, made to discover the truth, was the establishment of a special commission within the Creative Youth Club in 1962. After the discovery of traces of mass burials from the 1930's, the Commission issued a memorandum to the Kyiv City Council with a request to inform the inhabitants about the graves and soon the Creative Youth Club was dissolved...

The cemetery in Kiev-Bykivnia - Polish part
The cemetery in Kyiv-Bykivnia - Polish part

On 13 April 1971, the authorities learned about the digging up of the pits with human remains in the forest in Bykivnia in search of golden teeth and teeth crowns. Three days later, the Chairman of the State Security Committee (KGB) at the Council of Ministers of the Ukrainian SSR reported the results of the search by a specially established operational and investigative group of the KGB, which stated that about 2000 shot people were buried in Bykivnia.

On the same day, 16 April 1971, the 1st Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine P. Shelest wrote in a diary:

I was there personally - a terrible picture of human tragedy.

He also noted the discovery of 200 mass graves3. The Government Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Committed by the Nazis in the Dnieper Forestry, headed by I. Golovchenko, Minister of Internal Affairs of the Ukrainian SSR, established a day later, worked until 22 April, and the commission of experts in the field of forensic medicine - from 20 to 27 April 1971. According to the reports of both commissions, 207 death pits were discovered, including the remains of 3,805 victims (including 105 women), who were taken in 29 containers and buried in a large mass grave. The official announcement, published on 24 April 1971 in the newspaper “Pravda Ukrainy” and reprinted in many Ukrainian magazines, spoke about finding yet another place where Fascist looters [sic] murdered Soviet people4.

Another commission, working in Bykivnia from 18 to 24 December 1987, found and excavated the remains of another 2518 victims, buried in 42 wooden containers in the second mass grave.

A total of 275 death pits were discovered in 1971 and 1987, with the remains of 6323 victims, still considered murdered by the Fascist occupants.

With the arrival of “glasnost” and “perestroika”, it was possible - from 1988 - to loudly say that the human remains found in Bykivnia were the remains of the victims of Stalinist terror, and demand a worthy commemoration. Then, on 17-29 April 1989, the third stage of exploration work took place, during which the remains of further 498 murdered persons were excavated from 124 pits. The total number of human remains found and buried in mass graves in 1971, 1987 and 1989 was 6821.

It was during this work, on 21 March 1989, that the third Ukrainian Government Commission officially announced for the first time that the victims of Stalinist crimes were buried in Bykivnia. Whereas the criminal case No. 50-092, conducted by the Investigation Department of the Ukrainian Prosecutor's Office of the SSR from 5 December 1988 (more than 250 witnesses were interviewed, 15 reconstructions of the situation were made, 60 archival cases were examined), ended on 31 May 1989 with its discontinuation. The document reads as follows:

It was established that in the 19th and 20th quarter of the Dnieper Forestry in 1936-1941 there were burials of people repressed for so-called counter-revolutionary activities, sentenced to death by shooting in extrajudicial procedure or during away sessions of the military board of the Supreme Court of the USSR; the sentences were carried out in Kyiv, and at least two groups of people were shot in this location.
The persons who participated in falsifying the criminal cases made decisions about the arrest, sentencing and execution of sentences were also repressed, died in camps or on the front, and a large number of them died, therefore, due to the above-mentioned reasons, it is not possible to define the role of each of them. In addition, the time limit for bringing criminal prosecution against them has expired. In view of the above, the criminal case is subject to dismissal5.

The criminal proceedings were soon resumed, but on 3 January 1990 they were once again discontinued. It should be noted at this point that also the next criminal case, investigated by the Military Prosecutor's Office from 30 December 1998 to 25 June 2001, was discontinued.

The Chairman of the Government Commission for the Commemoration of Victims of Political Repressions Buried in the 19th Quarter of the Dnieper Forestry, the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Ukrainian SSR, Gen. Col. Hladush, in his letter of early July 1989, proposed the following:

1. It is believed that in the 19th quarter of the Dnieper Forestry in the Darnica Forest-Park Farm in the city of Kyiv a place of burial of people repressed in 1936-1941 was discovered.
In accordance with the Decree of the Supreme Council of the USSR Presidium of 16 January 1989 “On additional measures to restore justice to the victims of repressions that took place in the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s” , a monument will be erected in honour of the victims of mass repression in the 19th quarter of the Dnieper Forestry in the Darnica Forest-Park Farm in the city of Kyiv.
5. Until the monument to the victims of mass repression is erected at the site of the reburial of the remains of 6323 people, the inscription on the existing monument shall be removed6.

Indeed, the inscription in Ukrainian on the monument unveiled on 6 May 1988:

Memory eternal. The place of burial of 6323 Soviet soldiers, partisans, conspirators, peaceful citizens, tortured by the fascist occupiers in 1941-1943.

was hacked off in 1989. Only the first two words were left: “Memory eternal”7.

As a result of numerous demands to prevent the graves from being dug up, in the late 1980s the pits were filled up and the area was cleaned up and grassed over. A road was built to the place of mass burials. Traces of this landscaping were discovered during the Polish exhumations in 2001, 2006 and 20078.

The Presidents of Poland and Ukraine lay wreaths on the mass grave in the Polish part of the cemetery, on 21 September 2012
The Presidents of Poland and Ukraine lay wreaths on the mass grave in the Polish part of the cemetery, on 21 September 2012

Slightly later, the first discussions started and the first documents concerning the planned construction of a “memorial complex with an appropriate museum exhibition” in Bykivnia began. The first regulation was the regulation signed on 11 August 1994 by the President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma on the manner of commemorating the victims of “political repressions buried in the village of Bykivnia (Kyiv)”:

In order to thoroughly and comprehensively explore the tragic pages of Ukrainian history, to renew the historical truth and justice, and to commemorate the people who were killed, I have decided:

  1. To support the initiative of the scientific community of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine to commemorate the victims of political repressions buried in the village of Bykivnia (Kyiv)
  2. The Council of Ministers of Ukraine should:
    • develop, with the participation of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, and approve within one month a project to commemorate the victims of political repressions buried in the village of Bykivnia;
    • submit, in the established procedure, proposals for the announcement of an open international competition for the construction of a memorial complex with an appropriate museum exposition in the village of Bykivnia in 1994-1995;
    • provide material and technical support for the undertakings connected with commemoration of the victims of political repressions buried in Bykivnia village.

President Kuchma also issued a decree on 14 May 2001 on the comprehensive arrangement of issues related to a complete rehabilitation of persons persecuted in the former Ukrainian SSR for political reasons (the need to introduce changes in legislation) and to clarify their status, which would make it possible to secure social benefits, medical care, stays in sanatoriums, etc. The decree also announced the construction of commemoration at the sites of mass murders carried out by the Soviet NKVD.

A week later, on 22 May 2001 - the Council of Ministers of Ukraine adopted Order No. 546 on the establishment of the National Historic Memorial Reserve “Bykivnia Graves” in Bykivnia, which also meant the announcement of spatial development of this area. The Ukrainian and Polish sides started to implement their plans in the same year, 2012.


The first Polish victims were buried in the death pits in Bykivnia as early as 1937, i.e. since the beginning of the Polish Operation by order No. 00485 of the People's Commissioner of Internal Affairs (NKVD) of the USSR N. Yezhov of 11 August 1937.

As is widely known today, on 5 March 1940, at the request of the subsequent People's Commissioner of Internal Affairs, L. Beria, the highest authorities of the USSR made a secret decision to carry out the Katyn crime on 14,700 Polish prisoners of war from Soviet POW camps in Kozelsk, Ostashkov and Starobelsk and 7,000 prisoners from Soviet prisons in the western regions of the Ukrainian and Belarusian SSR. The USSR authorities later clarified the above data – 14,552 prisoners of war and 7,305 prisoners (note by the President of the KGB A. Szelepin to Nikita Khrushchev from 3 March 1959).

A copy of the document from 5 March 1940 was made available to the Polish side 52 years later - it was handed over to President Lech Walesa on 14 October 1992 at the Belvedere in Warsaw by a special envoy of the President of Russia Boris Yeltsin, Chairman of the Commission for State Archives at the Council of Ministers of the Federation, Professor R. Pikhoy.

On 5 May 1994 in Kyiv, the deputy head of the Security Service of Ukraine, General Andrei Khomich, showed me a list containing 3435 names – as the then Deputy General Prosecutor of Poland Stefan Snieżko recalled. Formally, it was a document announcing that, on 25 November 1940, the head of the 1st Special Department of the NKVD of the Ukrainian SSR, senior security lieutenant Tsvetukhin sent 3435 prison personal files to Moscow to the head of the 1st Special Department of the NKVD of the USSR, security major Bashtakov.

However, after a cursory examination of the list, neither I, nor, I believe, General Khomich, had any doubts that this is was a new, yet another list of unknown victims of the Katyn crime. Unknown, but sought after in the Katyn investigation since the autumn of 1992, i.e. since the moment we learned from the documents provided to the President of the Republic of Poland Lech Walesa by the President of Russia Boris Yeltsin that apart from prisoners of war, also other people were murdered in this operation.
In Kyiv, where I was given the assurance of cooperation, a list was made available to me which seems to be the “Ukrainian part” of the list of 7305 victims of the Katyn crime murdered in Ukraine and Belarus.

There is a lot of evidence that this is the “Ukrainian part” of the missing list of victims. First of all, several dozen people found the names of their loved ones on the list. So far they had been unsuccessfully searching for any information about the fate of their relatives arrested by the NKVD after 17 September 1939 in the southern part of the Eastern Borderlands. Next, the entries next to each name specify the number of the order list from the NKVD headquarters (e.g. 55/4, 66/2, etc.), which are marked in the same way as the so-called “death lists”, i.e., the lists concerning the transport of prisoners for execution from the camps in Kozelsk and Ostashkov.

Finally, he points out that the security major Bashtakov, who received the files of those arrested, according to the list, from senior lieutenant of security Tsvetukhin, was one of the special NKVD trio (Kobulov, Merkulov, Bashtakov), who, on the basis of the decision of 5 March 1940, “sentenced” the prisoners from Kozelsk, Ostashkov and Starobelsk to death. Therefore, it seems that we are on the right track to reveal further secrets of the Katyn crime9.

Above all, however, attention was drawn - as analysed by Jędrzej Tucholski - to the code system of numerical markings placed next to the surnames in the alphabetical list of senior lieutenant of security Tsvetukhin (e.g. Michalec, Stanisław, son of Kazimierz, born 1891; 43/2-34). The analysis of this code shows that 3435 Polish citizens imprisoned in Ukraine were executed on the basis of 33 order lists coded from 041/1 to 072/2, with an average of 104 names on the list. It was found that there was a code system consisting of a uniform, continuous numbering of all the lists, which were the result of the activities of the NKVD USSR trio, regardless of whether the order lists were later directed to Kozelsk, Ostashkov and Starobelsk through the NKVD USSR Board for Prisoners of War and Internees, or the 1st Special Department of the Moscow headquarters of the NKVD to the heads of the NKVD of the Belarusian SSR and the Ukrainian SSR. Therefore, it was made certain that the document received in Kyiv by prosecutor Stefan Snieżko is the “Ukrainian part” of the missing list of victims. It provides additional evidence that the mass murders committed by the NKVD in Katyn, Tver, Kharkiv and in as yet undetermined places in Ukraine and Belarus were part of one, centrally organized and carried out genocidal, which in 1943 became known as the Katyn Massacre10.

The action of “emptying” the NKVD prisons in the then western regions of the Ukrainian and Belarusian SSR (i.e., in the eastern part of the territory of the Second Republic annexed by the USSR) was initiated by Beria’s Order No. 00350 of 22 March 1940, instructing the transfer, within 10 days, of 3,000 prisoners from prisons in Drohobych, Lviv, Lutsk, Rivne, Stanislavov and Ternopil to prisons in Kharkiv, Kherson and Kyiv (probable places of murder).

It should be added at this point that the confirmation of the burial of Polish victims in 1940 in Kyiv-Bykivnia took place as early as 1971, but the Polish side found out about it 25 years later:

Already during the exhumation in 1971, undisclosed evidence was obtained that Poles from the Katyn Ukrainian List were also buried at the cemetery in Bykivnia. It resulted from the fact that the documentation from the exhumation was still partially preserved at the end of the 1980's, as well as from the few items from the excavations of the cemetery that were preserved in the Kyiv City Prosecutor's Office. These items, in connection with the reopening of the investigation in the spring of 1989, were subjected to an expert appraisal to assess their origin, function and time of manufacturing. The results of the expert appraisal showed that among the artifacts analysed there were also objects of Polish origin. The Polish items included coins of various issues, including a 1939 penny, a uniform button with the image of an eagle, and several Polish documents.

Among the latter, the following document deserves particular attention: a permit to drive vehicles on public roads issued in the name of Franciszek Paszkiel, who appeared on the Ukrainian Katyn List, imprisoned in Rivne, from where he was deported to the prison in Kyiv on 31 May 1940. This is the first evidential trace of the burial of the victims of the Stalinist regime, including Poles murdered in Ukraine in 1940 at this cemetery11.

An inventory of items of Polish origin, found during the Ukrainian exhumation in 1971, was made available to the Polish side by the Military Prosecutor's Office in Kyiv in 1996 - two years after submitting a copy of the so-called “Ukrainian list” (as already mentioned above).

Four years later the first three Katyn Cemeteries were opened: in Kharkiv, Ukraine (17 June 2000), Katyn, Russia (28 July 2000) and Mednoye, Russia (2 September 2000).

The Memorial Bell on the Polish part of the cemetery
The Memorial Bell on the Polish part of the cemetery

Three other important events from the following year concerning Bykivnia are worth mentioning: On 22 May 2001, the Council of Ministers of Ukraine adopted Order No. 546 on the establishment of the National Historic Memorial Reserve “Bykivnia Graves” in Bykivnia. A month later, Bykivnia became famous in the world when Pope John Paul II visited this place on the evening of Sunday 24 June 2001, the second day of his pilgrimage to Ukraine. The Pope was accompanied by two cardinals: Marian Jaworski and Lubomyr Huzar, Bishop Stanislaw Dziwisz and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Anatoly Zlenko. There were no words - John Paul II prayed in silence for the victims of communist terror, consecrated the place and laid a wreath under the cross.

The aim to confirm the graves of the murdered Poles from the Ukrainian Katyn List in Bykivnia was one of the programme tasks of the Council for the Protection of Memory of Strugle and Martyrdom (Rada Ochrony Pamięci Walk i Męczeństwa - ROPWiM). As a result of several years of efforts, in 2001, it was possible to carry out reconnaissance archaeological and exhumation works in the cemetery in Bykivnia with the participation of the Polish expedition12.

This was possible as a result of an agreement between the ROPWiM (headed by Secretary General Andrzej Przewoźnik) and the State Interministerial Commission for the Commemoration of the Victims of War and Political Repression (headed by the Responsible Secretary Vitali Kazakevich) established in 2001 at the Council of Ministers of Ukraine.

The archaeological and exhumation works carried out for the ROPWiM by expeditions led by Prof. Andrzej Kola (an archaeologist from the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun) in Bykivnia lasted from 2001 to 2011: from 15 October to 3 November 2001, from 7 July to 30 September 2006, from 31 July to 30 September 2007, and from 10 April to 30 June 2011.

The first stage of the works enabled the team to establish the location of 41 death pits (Polish victims from 1937-1938), the second - 21 graves with the remains of Polish victims from 1940, and the third - 33 such pits. Out of these 54 Polish graves the remains of 1488 people were exhumed, whose ceremonial burial in a mass grave took place on 27 October 2007. During the archaeological works in 2011, the remains of 492 people were exhumed from 15 Polish graves. Thus, in total, the remains of at least 1980 people were exhumed from 69 Polish graves.

The results of the works in 2007 made it possible to confirm the information that Poles from the so-called “Ukrainian Katyn list” were buried in Bykivnia in 1940. This was possible thanks to the military identification mark of Master Sergeant Józef Naglik (born in 1899), the commanding officer of the Border Protection Corps, exhumed on 25 August 2007 from grave No. 174A/2006.

It is worth noting that one of the photos, taken during the exhumation works in Bykivnia in May 2011 by Maksymilian Rigamonti from “Newsweek Polska” magazine, was recognized on 16 May 2012 as the Photo of the Year 2011 in the Grand Press Photo competition.

The real possibility of building the Polish War Cemetery in Bykivnia (the Fourth Katyn Cemetery) appeared unexpectedly in the second half of 2010, due to the favourable attitude of the new, after the elections, highest Ukrainian authorities. On 25 September 2010, after the ceremony at the Polish War Cemetery in Kharkiv, during a conversation with the Prime Minister of Ukraine Mykola Azarov, the President of the Republic of Poland Bronislaw Komorowski received an assurance that the Fourth Katyn Cemetery could be established in Bykivnia. Bikivnia also appeared in the Roadmap of Cooperation between the Republic of Poland and Ukraine for 2011-2012, signed on 3 February 2011 in Warsaw by the Presidents of Poland and Ukraine, Bronislaw Komorowski and Viktor Yanukovych. This issue was also raised during several consecutive meetings and talks between the two Presidents.

Name plates of the murdered
Name plates of the murdered

The remains of 492 Polish victims from 1940, excavated during the last stage of exhumation works in spring 2011, were solemnly buried in a mass grave on the premises of the future Polish War Cemetery on 30 June. The ceremony was presided over by the Auxiliary Bishop of Kyiv-Zhytomyr Diocese Stanislav Shyrokoradyuk.

On 12 September 2011, the competition for the architectural concept of the cemetery in Bykivnia, announced by the ROPWiM, was decided by a jury chaired by Prof. Konrad Kucza-Kuczyński. The competition was won by a team from AIR Projekt (architect Robert Głowacki) and Moderau Art. (sculptor Marek Moderau).

The foundation act of the Polish War Cemetery in Bykivnia was ceremonially laid on 28 November 2011 in the presence of the Presidents of Poland Bronislaw Komorowski and Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych.

In the following year, from 22 June to 22 July 2012, the team of Prof. Andrzej Kola finally finished the archaeological and exhumation works at the future Polish cemetery in Bykivnia.

The open tender for the construction of the Polish War Cemetery in Bykivnia, announced by the ROPWiM on 10 April 2012, was settled on 27 April. According to the agreement signed on 17 May, the winning consortium (UNIBEP S.A. and Zakład Kamieniarski FURMANEK sp.j.) entered the construction site on 7 June and completed the construction of the cemetery on 15 September 2012.

The Polish War Cemetery in Kyiv-Bykivnia (Fourth Katyn Cemetery) will be solemnly opened and consecrated on 21 September 2012.


  1. Here and below we recall the data published in the collection of documents and materials Pamjat' Bykiwni. Dokumenty ta materiały / Pamięć Bykowni. Dokumenty i materiały, ed. P.T. Trońko and others, Kyiv 2000.
  2. Ołeh Bażan, Bykiwnia. W zoni osobływoho mowczannja / Bykownia. W strefie szczególnego milczenia, [in:] Ibid, p. 17.
  3. Ibid., pp. 19, 28.
  4. Ibid., p. 21.
  5. Ibid., p. 77-79
  6. Ibid., pp. 81-82
  7. Andrzej Przewoźnik, Jolanta Adamska, Katyń. Zbrodnia. Prawda. Pamięć, Warsaw 2010, p. 540.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Stefan Śnieżko, Wstęp [in:] Listy katyńskiej ciąg dalszy. Straceni na Ukrainie. Lista obywateli polskich zamordowanych na Ukrainie na podstawie decyzji Biura Politycznego WKP(b) i naczelnych władz państwowych ZSRR z 5 marca 1940 roku, ed. by Zuzanna Gajowniczek, Independent Historical Committee for the Investigation of the Katyn Massacre, Polish Katyn Foundation, Central Military Library, Warsaw 1995 (“Zeszyty Katyńskie”, No. 4), pp. V-VI.
  10. Jędrzej Tucholski, Wstęp, [in:] Zuzanna Gajowniczek, Ukraiński ślad Katynia, opracowała Zuzanna Gajowniczek, Warsaw 1995, p. XI.
  11. Andrzej Kola, Archeologia zbrodni. Oficerowie polscy na cmentarzu ofiar NKWD w Charkowie, Wydawnictwo UMK, Toruń 2005, pp. 329-330.
  12. Ibid., p. 330.

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